America’s largest police force, the NYPD, is to disband its plain-clothes anti-crime unit, its commissioner said Monday, as calls for police reform spread across the United States following anti-racism protests.
New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea said the team’s 600 officers would be reassigned to other roles including detective work and neighborhood policing.
“Make no mistake, this is a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city,” Shea told reporters.
The unit was focused on targeting violent crime and had been involved in some of New York City’s most notorious police shootings, according to the New York Times.
“I think it’s time to move forward and change how we police in this city. We can do it with brains we can do it with guile, we can move away from brute force,” Shea added.
The announcement comes as the NYPD faces criticism for using heavy-handed tactics against largely peaceful protesters demonstrating against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
Officers in the NYPD were filmed baton charging and confining demonstrators who had defied night-time curfews.
Several officers have been disciplined and at least one has been charged with assault, with more expected according to local reports.
Floyd, a black man, was killed on May 25 when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
His death sparked angry protests against police brutality and racism across the United States.
It was just the latest incident in a larger pattern of police use of lethal force that has seen officers acting with relative impunity for years.
Following Floyd’s killing, communities, states and even Congress have come up with initiatives to stem police violence, especially against the black community.
The NYPD has approximately 36,000 police officers, more than any other force in the United States.
Shea said plain-clothes officers would continue to work in other units, including surveillance teams.